Travel’s Impact on Education and Career Choices

Feb 6, 2024

Student Universe, an organization that encourages students and youth to travel and explore the world, recently conducted a study.

As part of their research, they surveyed four thousand 18- to 25-year-olds from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia about the role student travel played in their lives. The 2023 survey results showed one unifying theme, “Student travel provided extraordinary and undeniable value to students, youth and the world at large.”

Their report highlighted three pillars of youth travel: education, leisure and vocation. The educational component focused on school trips, study abroad programs and language learning. According to the results, it doesn’t matter if the journey lasted a week, month, semester or year, the results were the same—traveling enlarged their perspective and broadened their horizons.

The second pillar, leisure, looked at students who traveled with friends or on their own. This included vacations, holiday travel, backpacking and attendance at special events like festivals. Student Universe stated that these students have developed self-confidence and a sense of adventure. Often, students who have been on educational journeys realize the value of traveling and want to continue to travel with others or solo.

The final pillar, vocation, examined those students who focused on working holidays, volunteer/internship opportunities, and careers. As a result of educational youth travel, students became purpose-driven and globally focused on their path of traveling for education. The students said travel added to context and depth of classroom discussions. They also achieved higher grades than those who did not travel, and many sought higher learning or post-graduate work.

Travel can alter both education and career paths. A passion for travel encourages people to teach English abroad, became an au pair, travel blogger, freelance writer, freelance photographer or traveling nurse. The love for exploring may lead one to work on a cruise ship, airline or train. Some people may join the Peace Corps while others seek seasonal jobs like ski resorts, whitewater rafting, or festival and event companies that allow them to travel and experience a variety of destinations. Others may work in the tourism industry as a tour guide, with a Destination Marketing Organization, as a travel agent, or even become a college professor and teach tourism courses.

I can’t help but think about my own life path and how it was forever altered because of youth travel. My parents encouraged me to participate in Youth for Understanding, an exchange student program. At age 17, I spent three months in the Netherlands and lived with a host family. It was the most challenging three months of my life, but when I returned home, I realized I was a changed person and my mantra became, “Adventure On!”

My educational focus, leisure, and eventually, vocation all centered around travel. During college, I studied foreign languages, made friends with international students, read, and learned about foreign countries, worked at an international Girl Scout camp in Germany and began exploring, on my own, some countries in Europe. Each international trip filled me with excitement, contentment, and a desire to travel more. In no time, I developed wanderlust or Fernweh, a German word that means an ache to get away and travel to a distance place.

When I graduated from college, I sought a vocation that would allow me to travel, purposefully taking a job as Student Activities Director at a college so I could have the summers off to explore the world. For 22 summers, I traveled the world, three months at a time, exploring, experiencing and learning as much as possible about wherever I visited. My love for travel prompted me to seek higher education and I completed a Master’s degree in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. This led to an adjunct faculty position at a college where I currently teach tourism courses.

I’ve taught and led high school and college study abroad trips and shared my passion for travel with the students. I wrote a travel column for a local newspaper for four years. I studied Russian in Siberia. I taught in Uganda. I traveled to Antarctica.

And most importantly, I continued to travel, primarily on my own, checking off countries and continents. When I returned from trips, I shared my travels with others through presentations, classroom discussions, travel articles and photographs. Just recently, I applied to work at the summer Olympics in Paris in July 2024. I don’t know if I will be chosen, but if so, it will be a dream come true.

As teachers, we know that taking a group of students on an educational trip can change their lives. It helps them expand compassion, develop grit, gain different perspectives, and experience growth and independence. You can be the educator who gently pushes your students out of their comfort zone to a new educational or vocation path. Who knows, you may encourage a student to a lifetime of travel, wanderlust and Fernweh.

This article was written by Julie Beck for the January 2024 issue of Teach & Travel.